The Akha swinging ceremony. พิมพ์ อีเมล
เขียนโดย Chob Kacha-ananda   

CHOB KACHA-ANANDA. THE AKHA SWINGING CEREMONY. JSS. VOL.59 (pt.1) 1971. p.119-128.

 

 

                         THE AKHA SWINGING CEREMONY

                                                         by

                                      Chob Kacha-ananda

 

Among the six major tribal groups included with in  the  research
program of the  Tribal  Research  Centre  located  in  Chiang  Mai, the
Akha   are   classified  among  Tibeto-Burman  linguistic  group. Their
language is closely related to Lahu and Lisu.  These  last  languages
form a branch of Lolo.

The original settlements of the  Akha  were  in  Yunnan  Province
and from there, in South China, they have  migrated  into  Burma  and
Thailand.   This   migration   began   about   50  or  60  years  ago. For-
merly,  Akha   villages   in  Thailand  were  scattered  only  through  an
area west of the Paholyothin  Highway  in  the  Districts  of  Mae  Chan
and Mae Sai in Chiang Rai Province, and north of  the Mae  Kok  River
which flows eastwards  out  of  Burma,  through  the  town  of  Chiang
Rai, and  on  into  the  Mekong  River.  Now,  however,  because  of  a
continued southward movement, Akha villages are also found  in  the
Districts of Chiang Saen and Mae Sruai of Chiang Rai  Province,  and
one village is located in King Amphoe Mae Ai in Chiang Mai  Province.

Gordon Young  (1961:85)  estimated  that  there  were  25,200
Akha in Thailand. In 1 968 a  United  Nations  team  conducted  a  sur-
vey   of   opium   cultivation   in   the  mountains  of  northern  Thailand.
Incidental to this  information  they  collected  demographic  data  and
estimated that there were  6,442  Akha  in  Thailand.  This  number  is
2.3percent of all those people living above the altitude  of  600 meters.
Hanks   and  Sharp  (1964 :  Appendix  II),  surveying  this  entire  area,
which they named the  "Mae  Kok  River  Region", found  a  population
of 6,288 Akha.

The Akha  are  like  other  tribal  groups  in  northern  Thailand
with regard to their religious and ceremonial aspects. They   are  both
animists and worshippers of their ancestors. We are concerned here
with one important ceremony, the "Swinging Ceremony", which is  as
significant as the rites associated with their New Year festival.

 

 

 

 

 

120                                        Chob Kacha-ananda

 

In 1967 the Swinging Ceremony observed in Saen Chai village
in Mae Chan  District  of  Chiang  Rai  Province  began  on  22  August
and ended on 25 August. Usually  this  ceremony  lasts  for  four  days.
The time at which a Swinging Ceremony is held in  each  of  the  Akha
villages in northern Thailand varies,  and  this  time  varies  according
to the most auspicious day of each  village's  headman. (See  below).
However, this ceremony is always held during August, the tenth lunar
month of the Akha calendar.

Few people can remember the history of  this  ceremony,  but
the chief spiritualist  of  the  village  explained  that  this  ceremony  is
held to celebrate the maturation of planted rice. The story associated
with the ceremony is given below.

When the god1 Apremiere created the world, the gods Umsa
and Umyae were also  created.  Both  of  the  created  gods  are  still
able to  control  rain  and,  through  direct  contact,  to  make  the  sun
shine. These created gods were made as man  and  wife. They  bad
one son and one daughter named  Umsahyee  and  Umsahyeh. The
New Year ceremony is believed to have been  started  by  Umsahyee;
the Swinging Ceremony is believed to have been started  by  Umsah-
yeh-in order to honor their god-parents and  to  assure  plentiful  and
timely rain, sunshine, and a good harvest of rice.

The Akha people regard Umsahyeh as  their  first  female  an-
cestor.   From   her   to   Akha   now  living  there  are  60  generations.
Because the ceremony is in honor of a female god, the  ceremony  is
performed by Akha women. Fo r the  ceremony  the  Akha  women  of
all ages put on their  very  best,  most  beautiful  and  most  elaborate
clothes and come together at the swing which,  in  all  villages,  must
be located near the spirit gate and which, in the village of  Saen Chai,
was also located next to the courting plaza.

              There are three types of swing. When  one  enters  this  Akha
village, passing through the Spirit Gate and past  the  courting  plaza,
one will see two  swings .One  is  the  swing  which  was  started  by

______________________________________________________

1) The writer has used the word 'gods' because the Akha insisted that those
named beings for whom this ceremony was conducted were not spirits  and
were not human beings; they have been created and had lived  in  the  world
with no parents.

 

 

 

 

 

                              THE AKHA SWINGING CEREMONY                             121

 

Umsahyeh. It consists  of  fou r posts  made  of  thin  tree  trunks  shorn
of   all   branches  except  for  those  at  the  very  top.  These  four  posts
are fixed  in  the  ground  at  points  which form a square,  and  the  tops
are  joined  together  by  a  rope  with  a  loop  at  the  end  which  hangs
down.

Another   type   of  swing  has  only  two  upright  posts  made  of
more sturdy tree  trunks.  On  their  tops  these  two  posts  are  notched
and placed in these notches is  the  swing  wheel  axle.Attached  to  the
axle there are four arms or spokes made of two adjacent tree branches
at the ends of  which  swings  are  attached.  This  type  of  swing  looks
like a water-wheel or a ferris wheel.

The Akha at Saen Chai village said  that  only  married   women
may  swing  with  the  swing  of   the  first   type, and  the   men and  the
unmarried women with the second type.2

There  is  another  type of swing  in  front of every house. These
are the swings for the children. Like  the  first  swing  described  above,
they are constructed with four  small  saplings  squarely  imbedded  in
the  ground,  tied  together  at  the  tops, from  which  point  a  cradle  is
hung.

This Swinging Ceremony is  a  village  ceremony,  not  a  house-
hold ceremony. Therefore  each  Akha  in  every  household  takes  part
in building the swings and in the ceremony proper.

As indicated above, the Akha perform this ceremony on the aus-
picious  day   of   the  village  headman.3  There  are  five  weeks  in  an
Akha month.4 In each week there is one day  which  is  the  auspicious

                             _________________________________________________________

2) The writer was told that the four-post swing was for married  women  and

      the water-wheel-like swing was for men and unmarried women. He  was

      also informed lately  that  both  men  and  women  could  swing  with  both

      swings.

 3) Saen Chai village's headman is a Jeuma. He is Saen Chai's younger brother.

     Saen Chai regards himself as a Khama, which is a head of all Akha villages

     in Thailand.

 4) The Akha think in terms of  a  12  year  cycle. A  year  has  12  months  and

      a month has thirty days but there are five varying  weekly  time  periods  of

      five days or six days or seven days in a month. The symbols of the twelve

      years are the same as those used  for  the twelve days. These are : 1. the

      day of the ant, 2. the day  of  the  buffalo, 3. the day of the tiger, 4. the day

      of the horse, 5.  the  day  of  the rabbit, 6. the day of the termite, 7. the day

      of the mule, 8. the  day  of the giraff, 9. the day of the monkey, 10. the day

      of the chicken, 11. the day of the dog, and 12. the day of the pig.

 

 

 

 

 

                               122                                                Chob Kacha-ananda

Akha_swinging


 

 

 

                           THE AKHA SWINGING CEREMONY                                 123

 

day of the headman (the auspicious day  of  the  Saen  Chai  village
headman that year was the day of the buffalo). This  ceremony  may
be performed during any week of the  proper  month. Each year  the
old men in the village have a meeting at the headman's house and
consider the day for the Swinging Ceremony.

Since in Saen Chai village in 1967 the auspicious day of the
headman, or Jeuma, was the day  of  the  buffalo,  the  Akha  in  that
village began building the swings on that auspicious day.  Because
the ceremony covers a period of four  days,  the  first  part  of  it  was
begun one day prior to the auspicious day.  These  days  then  were
the days of the ant, the buffalo, the tiger and the horse.

On the day of the ant, the day of the first part of the ceremony,
the Akha slaughtered chickens and offered them to  their  ancestors.
On the second day, or the day of  the  buffalo,  they  built  the  swings.
On the third day, or the day of the  tiger,  they  slaughtered  pigs  and
one ox. The first day was to  honor  the  ancestors;  the  second  day
was for constructing the swings; the third day  was  for  feasting. On
the fourth day they swang.

On  the  first  day  of  the ceremony, the Akha  in  each  house
slaughtered  one  chicken, cooked it and offered it to their ancestors.
The  wife  of  the  household  head,  and  not  the  village  spiritualist,
performed this ceremony  of  offering.  When  the  ceremony  ended,
the ancestors, having attended, were invited  to  return  to  the  spirit
world.

The Akha have a specific method for slaughtering  chickens
when offering them to ancestors. It is not the same method as   that
usually employed. They have a specific  place  within  the  house, a
special hammer and a separate chopping block. The hammer and the
chopping block cannot be used every day. These pieces  of  house-
hold equipment are kept in a specially reserved place and are brought
out only  fo r slaughtering  chickens  for  the  ancestors. A  glass  of
water, a glass of rice whiskey and a chicken  are  brought  out  to  a
ritually designated place for the offering and ceremonial killing.

 

 

 

 

124                                       Chob Kacha-ananda

 

The water used is this ceremony must be taken from the stream
used as a daily water source by the headman's  house. This  water  is
carried to the village in bamboo tubes. Water from  the  other  streams
also used by village households as their daily water source cannot be
used.  When   bringing   the   water   from   the  stream,  if  those  Akha
bringing it see a snake,  that  supply  of  water  must  be  thrown  away
and a  new  supply  must  be  fetched.  Water  contained  in  the  tubes,
not used for  the  ceremony,  cannot  be  drunk  until  the  ceremony  of
slaughtering the chicken has been completed.

To kill the chicken, they hit   the  chicken's  head  with  the  ham-
mer (never cutting the chicken's throat and never  using  the  blood  for
cooking). While killing  the  chicken,  the  Akha  close  the  house  door
so that  the  dogs  will  not  enter.  After  killing  the  chicken,  they  pour
water on it three times from a ceremonial water glass; and  then   they
cut off the legs and the wings. The two  legs  and  the   two  wings  are
placed on the shelf reserved for the ancestors which can be found   in
every Akha house. It is  said  that  the  legs  of  chickens  are  used  by
spirits as walking canes and that the wings are used by the spirits as
fans. When  the  legs  and  wings  have  been  cut  off,  the  chicken  is
placed on the open hearth fire to  singe  its  feathers.  The  chicken  is
then cooked and placed on a  low,  round  table.This  table  is  also  a
specific  table  used  only  for  offering  things  to  the  ancestors.  This
table is always kept in a special box.

After preparing the table for  the  ceremonial  meal, the  house-
wife   invites   all   ancestors,  including   Umsahyeh.  On  the  first  day
gongs and cymbols are beaten.  These  two  percussion  instruments
are played only during those ceremonies associated with the ancestors.

On the  second  day of  the  ceremony (the  day  of  the  buffalo,
which at the time this study was made was August 23,1967) the Akha
built the swings. Saen Chai said that each year new  swings  have  to
be built at the old locations because the old swings have   rotted  and
cannot be used.

 

 

 

 

                             THE AKHA SWINGING CEREMONY                          125

 

The building of the new swings was started when an Akha from
each  household  had   arrived  at   the   house  of   the  headman.  This
occurred  at  approximately  ten  o'clock  in  the morning. The  headman
who  performed  the  ceremony  was dressed  in  his usual clothes; his
head was wrapped in a pink satin turban  and  on  top  of  this  he  wore
a conical rattan hat. He  also  carried  a  rectangular  hand-woven  cloth
bag. From the headman's house the procession went to  the  swinging
place. The headman, or Jeuma, was the  last  one  in  this  procession.
The  procession was  divided  into  many  groups.  One  of  the  groups
went  out  to  cut  the  trees  for  the  posts  for  the main swing. Another
group searched for  the  liana  to make  the  rope.  And   the  remainder
of the people, including the headman, helped each other  in  demolish-
ing the old  main  swing,  and  making  a  clearing  for  the  new  swing,
which involved the digging of four new holes.

The main swing was constructed on the side of a  slope. Two
holes were located on the high part of the slope's ridge and the other
two were  on  the  lower  part.  That  hole  of  the  two  which  were  on
the high part of the ridge and was closest to the village was  the "key"
hole or the most important hole. This  hole  is  never  moved, but  the
location of the other three holes may be  changed. The  headman  of
the village is the first man who cleans the loose dirt from this old key
hole and then the villagers help in completing the  digging  of  all  the
holes until they have reached about  one  meter  in  depth. When  the
new trunks for the new swing have been cut  and  trimmed  to  points
and are ready to be put into the holes, the headman  places  husked
rice, a fresh chicken egg, water and a piece of silver into the key hole
and inserts the post.

Before all the posts are put into the holes, four liana ropes are
loosely attached to their tops. When all the posts  have  been placed
into the newly dug holes, four men climb to the tops of the posts where
the ropes will be tightened. They pull the ropes and make  two  posts
bend together and then, again with the ropes, they tie them into pairs.
The two pairs of tied posts are joined by a one meter piece of carved
wood and then firmly tied together at the top.

 

 

 

 

126                                      Chob Kacha-ananda

 

A rope made of the liana with a loop at one end is hung from
the top attached to the one meter piece of carved wood. The bottom
of the loop extends down to one meter above the ground. The head-
man puts three bunches of grass and three pieces of stone on the loop
and shoves the loop so that it swings to and fro three times. This is
believed to be the swinging of Umsahyeh. Then the headman gets
up onto the loop and swings three times. After this the others swing.

When using this loop for swinging, the men put one foot  into
the loop, but the women use a small stick which is  put   through  the
loop and on which  they  can  then  sit.  Men swing standing; women
swing  sitting. Attached  to  the  swing rope  and  over  the  swinger's
head is a pull rope about two to three meters long used by the people
below to help make the swinging better.

The second swing, the one which looks like  a  water  wheel, is
built   with  no  ceremony  and  is  not  utilized  as  a  formal  part  of  the
swinging ceremony. The old posts of this swing  may  still  be  used  if
strong enough. Only the axle and the spokes are changed.

While the first two types of  swing  are  being  built,  the  swings
for the children, in front of every house, are being built, too.

While   the  men  build  the  swings,  the  women  prepare  their
clothes for the ceremony. No  one goes  to  the  fields  during   the  time
of   this  ceremony. In  the  evening  the  women  come  together  at  the
swings  for  swinging. At  night  they  make music   by   beating   drums,
gongs, cymbols and sections of bamboo. These bamboo sections are
those which serve as water containers as well as musical instruments
and   they  produce  sound  by  being  pounded  down  vertically  on  the
ground. During this ceremony at Saen  Chai  village,  three  young  and
beautiful girls pounded the bamboo tubes  in  front  of  the  headman's
house and  in  front  of  Saen  Chai's  house. At  the  same  time,  other
young Akha boys and girls enjoyed themselves  at  the  courting  plaza.
Some girls and young women sang  songs  and   danced.  The  young
men chose their partners and, at the courting plaza, flirted  and  petted.

 

 

 

 

                             THE AKHA SWINGING CEREMONY                           127

 

On the third day of the ceremony (the day of the  tiger,  August
24, 1967), and in the early  morning,  another  chicken  was  killed  by
each household and was offered to the ancestors. Then one pig and
one ox were killed. The pig which was killed  could  have  come  from
any house and the donor depended on the considerations of the old
men at the meeting that was held to decide when to initiate  the  cere-
mony. At  the  ceremony  performed  in  1967,  the  ox  was  the  ox  of
Saen Chai. These two animals were cooked and then served  to  the
old men. Saen Chai  also  said  that  part  of  the  meat  of  these  two
animals could be sold or bartered within the village.

After the morning feast on the third day, music was played  in
front of Saen Chai's house. Men danced and   three  pretty  girls  with
bamboo sections provided the rhythm by pounding the bamboos on
the ground. Saen Chai's son explained that  this  was  for  the  enjoy-
ment of  the  old  men.  At  about  three  o'clock  in  the  afternoon  the
swinging was begun. The children swang all day.

On the fourth day, or the last day of the ceremony, the  day  of
the horse, August 25, 1967, the swinging was held from three or four
o'clock in the  afternoon  until  six  o'clock  in  the  evening. The  Akha
said that this  day  was  the  most  enjoyable  day.  At  six  o'clock  the
headman swang for the last time.Then he tied the swing rope to one
of the four posts. The ceremony was ended.

No one is allowed to cut or chip the posts; if they do, they will
be punished and the punishment would be a fine of one pig paid  to
the headman.

Every ceremony and every  festival performed  in  the  village
has much meaning fo r the  Akha  girls. The  explanation  for  this is
that, when a girl reaches 15 years of age, regarded by the Akha as the
beginning of womanhood, her dress will be  gradually  changed  from
that worn by a child to that worn  by  a  woman.  All  pieces  of  dress
associated with becoming a woman may not be put on at the  same
time. One piece is put on after one   ceremony.  It  can  be  said  that
a girl, in order to become a woman, has to pass four steps involving
four ceremonies. When she is a girl, she puts on a hat  with  no  red

 

 

 

 

128                                      Chob Kacha-ananda

 

and white beads, but when she reaches  15  years  old, the  hat  will  be
decorated with such beads. She wears a brassière for the second  step,
and a belt that serves  as  well  as  a  loin  girder  for  the  third  step. The
high-shaped headgear with its beautiful decoration comes at  the  fourth
step.  Girls   who  have  already  passed  these   four  steps  are  mature
women.

The days of  the  Swinging  Ceremony  are  times  of  enjoyment.
It  is  the  time  for  children  to  play  and  for  the  young  people to enjoy
themselves  courting.  Nobody  works  the  fields. When  this  ceremony
ends,   the   small   swings   for   children   are   pulled   down.  Only  the
village's graceful main  swings,  which  are  symbols  for  Akha  villages,
remain.

 

 

 

Akha_swinging_2

 

 

 

 

 

Akha_swinging_3

 

 

 

 

 

Akha_swinging_4

 

 

 

 

Akha_swinging_5

 

 

 

 

Akha_swinging_6

 

 

 

 

Akha_swinging_7

 

 

 


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